BROOKLAND — CUA Law slid 27 spots—from No. 80 to No. 107—on the U.S. News and World Report’s 2015 law school rankings, representing the single largest drop among law schools across the country this year.
One reason for the school’s slump was the relaxing of its admissions standards, according to Robert J. Morse, director of data research for U.S. News & World Report. CUA Law lowered its GPA and LSAT targets, which caused the acceptance rate for incoming 2013 applicants to balloon to 55 percent, up from 36 percent the previous year. The employment rate among 2012 graduates was weaker than a year earlier, Morse added.
Despite efforts by administrators to downplay the significance of the report, some students saw the dip as a blow to CUA Law’s standing as the school continues to reconcile itself to a legal education market still reeling from a sharp drop in law school applications over recent years.
The downgrade also comes at a time of flux for CUA Law’s leadership. The school last month completed its first year under the direction of Dean Daniel Attridge, who took the helm in February 2013 as CUA Law was in the midst of the third-biggest enrollment drop among law schools nationwide from 2010-2013.
The undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores (25th-75th percentile) of the 2013 incoming class were 2.92-3.37 and 151-157, respectively, down from 3.06-3.52 and 153-159 in 2012, according to the report. Over the same period, CUA Law’s rating among law school deans, lawyers, judges and other peers also saw a downtick.
In a statement on the school’s website, Attridge minimized the significance of the 2015 ranking, writing that the 27-spot decline had “no connection to the excellence of the education we offer.” He added that “we are adamant about continuing our commitment to attracting high-caliber students and offering them a first-rate education.”
Attridge did not acknowledge the report’s explicit rationale for dropping the school’s rank. He instead took specific aim at the methodology that accounts for nearly half of a school’s U.S. News & World Report ranking.
“Fully 40% of a law school’s ranking consists of merely the ‘opinions’ of those surveyed, meaning that those who fill out the annual questionnaires are asked to assign a 1 to 5 grade to every accredited law school in the country, regardless of what they really know about a given institution and without being asked to provide any information to support any ranking,” Attridge wrote.
Attridge declined a request to be interviewed for the story.
From his first appearance on campus as a dean candidate in November 2012, Attridge expressed ambivalence about the U.S. News & World Report ranking system’s merit as a valuation tool, and skepticism over the wisdom of using its precepts as the sole basis for a law school’s administrative decisions.
“I’m not going to be driven by rankings. And I’m not going to ignore them. They’re a fact of life,” then-Dean Candidate Attridge told students during a question-and-answer session on November 9, 2012. “If you wind up 82 and you’re not happy with that, do what you can to improve it. But if it doesn’t improve—or if it gets worse—you live with that. You live with that. And you try to make it better.”
During his November 2012 remarks to students, Attridge also expressed a desire for the school to be “perceived—not only internally, but externally—as being among the best of the best.”
But for some students, Attridge’s comments on the homepage today—which signal no intention to change course in the wake of being relegated to No. 107 from No. 80 in the rankings—raise more questions than they answer about how the dean plans to improve the way the law school is perceived.
*Correction, Mar. 12, 2014: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that CUA Law had been relegated to a “third-tier” rank. U.S. News & World Report no longer uses a four-tier system for ranking law schools.
+Clarification, Mar. 12, 2014: The original headline read “CUA Law Relegated to Third Tier Rank under New Dean.” An official with CUA Law public affairs suggested this unfairly implied a causal relationship between Dean Attridge’s tenure and the decline in CUA Law’s U.S. News & World Report rank. While the employment figures—which were cited as one of the two main reasons for CUA Law’s drop in rank—predate Dean Attridge’s tenure, questions about who was responsible for the decision to lower admissions standards remain unanswered. In the meantime, The Redirect has amended the headline while it awaits a response to this and related questions from CUA Law Public Affairs. This article will be updated accordingly.